A Primer on College Essays

By Rajkamal Rao  

Essays are crucial to college admissions. Image Credit: Rao Advisors LLC

Primer on College Essays

High school students already know that the most crucial subjective part of their college application is, without a doubt, the college essay.  

Why do colleges even need essays?  They already know a lot about you through your grades, honors courses, AP exams, and admission tests.

As you probably guessed, grades and admission test scores tend to bring you down to a number.  Students are human and bring with them compelling life stories that are not captured by these numbers.  

The college essay provides you, as a student, an opportunity to present a human side to college admissions officers. Members of your audience who will review your essays are experts in the field. Admissions officers with just 5 - 8 years of experience may have read over 10,000 student essays in their careers!

Composing essays takes practice. You should pay attention to the style of writing - it can't be informal, like an email you would write to your friend. Neither does it have to be formal, such as an academic research paper. It has to be somewhere in between, where you can and should liberally use the word "I."

For most essays, you should adopt the role of a storyteller.  The reader does not know you and wants to understand who you are. So oblige the reader. For some essays - such as "Why is an odd number odd?" - the storytelling approach may not work quite as well, but you can still try to inject your personality into the essay.

Depending upon the essay, the tone should express confidence, joy, or optimism. In some cases - such as a student describing a story in which he/she overcame trauma - such a tone would be inappropriate.


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